I’ve long been fascinated by the things that we frequently ignore, or simply pass us by. Standing on a street corner I’ve often found myself staring up at the top of buildings and being struck that few people seem to notice the architecture or the distinguishing aspects of the facade. We are all guilty of staring down at the ground, watching our step in a very practical and reasonable manner, but just as frequently today glaring at the screen of a smart phone. The world around us has seemingly shrunk to the width of a handheld frame.
Indeed many of my works and projects celebrate the forgotten, the invisible, the unknown. I’ve created all manner of installations and performances in unusual spaces in response to frequently quirky invitations. That’s been a real joy of my creative life. Most often I’m drawn to projects and possibilities that push boundaries whilst appealing towards new and diverse audiences.
So, a few months back I received an invitation towards making new work for a very special festival at Greenwich Peninsula, to take place literally on the doorstep of the gigantic 02 venue. Marketed as London’s new flashy residential neighbourhood and cultural hub, Greenwich Peninsula promises to become the new hot destination for art, design and architecture. And to launch this initiative the Turning Tides festival is taking place, which runs over the first two weekends in July.
After a few phone conversations and emails, I met with the producer, Matt Nightingale, and we sat down in a hipster cafe in North Greenwich, to openly discuss what might be possible. It was going to be epic and spectacular. It was going to involve an orchestra and choir. It would be monumental in scale. We were both super excited and enthusiastic at the potential. Matt is just the kind of producer you need to work with, happy to support what you want to do and open to risks!
As the weeks passed though we were clearly both rethinking the reality of this proposition. I was quite frankly a little intimidated at the idea of scoring a new work at this level, and trying to translate this to both players and an audience who clearly would need ‘entertaining’ in the most immediately gratifying way. Matt too was constantly having to reconsider the schedule for the festival too.
And so it transformed, into a much more personally engaging and rewarding opportunity. Another conversation in the same hipster cafe, inspired by a soft drink and cake, and Undercurrent was suddenly born.
Nine metres above the ground
Undercurrent will accompany the 9-metre-high elevated walkway The Tide, flowing through native trees, providing a unique landscaped route for running, walking and meditation. It was designed by Diller and Scofidio, the very same architects who created New York City’s The Highline if you’ve ever have the chance to visit this amazing location.
Over several months I collected recordings from beneath the ground, capturing the sounds that we never hear. From earthworms burrowing their way through the soil, to fish in the Thames, to the electrical hum of machinery deep beneath the surface, Undercurrent celebrates a world invisible to the eye but ever active. At one point Matt accompanied me as I stood hanging a special hydrophone microphone over a wooden deck out on the Thames River in London, the rain pouring down, and listening and recording the sounds of underwater activity.
At one point a barge on the other side of the river passed through, an innocuous event on the surface, but as the ripples steadily navigated their way towards the shore, I could hear the deepest heavy rumbling sounds rise in volume, until all at once it became an enormous crescendo of white noise.
An underground cinema for the ears
I then collaged the bulk of these recordings into a new cinematic work for the ears, so the listener is encouraged to traverse the elevated Tide walkway and tune into this unique world of sonic exploration. You discover even in the seeming silence there is a magical sound world. The work is entirely free, running throughout the entire festival. Wireless headphones will be available for free from a local kiosk. Just bring some ID for security so they don’t think you are going to steal the headphones!
Rather amusingly now that my work is aligned with ‘art’ rather than ‘music’ it means my creative neighbours are my imaginary pals Damien Hirst and Yoko Ono 🙂 On Saturday 6th July at 15.00 I’ll also be in conversation with my fine (and real this time) friend musician and writer David Toop, to talk about the work and sound in general. Again that’s free but come along early to guarantee entry.
Dutch Girl in London, aka Mrs Scanner, also wrote an entertaining blog post on the festival, which offers more of a back story to some of the art and general context. Read it here.
And whilst visiting of course it’s a chance to enjoy the remainder of the festival which runs over two consecutive weekends. Turning Tides features art, live music, wellness, food, film screenings and much more. Gaz Coombes, Laura Mvula, Oumou Sangare and Beth Orton are leading the live line-up, with Village Underground and Ghost Notes curating sessions. There’ll also be a special performance by Sink The Pink, set to the backdrop of GERONIMO’s large-scale water droplet installation, to kick the whole thing off on Friday night. See you there!
Turning Tides Festival
Fri 5th – Sun 7th July & Fri 12th – Sun 14th July 2019
Greenwich, London, SE10